Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A (Not So) New Education Conversation

A new website debuted September 1st, devoted to bringing a "new conversation" to the world of education. Education Post is here to create this new conversation by relaunching some old familiar reformster talking points. Just four articles in on Day One, and you know that we've seen this movie before. Let me walk you through it so that you don't have to bother.


Peter Cunningham wants us to know that parents want a better conversation. They're tired of politics and name calling and excuses. Hey, maybe he's including the politics used to push the reformster agenda, the name calling that reformsters use to marginalize critics, and the excuses made for the CCSS, testing and charters!

With the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation, we are launching a new organization called Education Post to provide a strong voice for those who believe the current education system needs to get better.

Yeah, probably not. Since those three groups have been pushing the reformster agenda like crazy, I guess we probably aren't going to acknowledge that at this point, the current education system is, in fact, the one the reformsters wanted, with CCSS, high-stakes standardized testing, and charters blooming like a million dandelions.

Cuningham proudly notes that they have Democrats, Republicans and teachers on board here, to give voice to people who have been shouted out in the ed conversation (because if there's anyone who's had trouble being heard, it's Bloomberg, Broad and Walton), and he has three particular points he wants to get across.

* Students need to be challenged with high standards and critical thinking
* We need great schools with great teachers, which we'll get with accountability systems
* Parents should get to make the right choices for their kids

So, Common Core, test-based ratings for teachers, and charters. Are these really ideas that have had trouble being heard in the education world?

One line in the intro does help identify the target audience:

At its core, our mission is to help parents answer the one question they are asking: “Is my child getting the education he or she needs to have the quality of life we hoped for?


The former LA mayor talks about his own history as a troubled youth and as a mayor for whom improving schools was a top priority. He believes we need to change the status quo (and I agree, though I suspect we disagree on what the status quo actually is). "We need to stop the name-calling and polarized debates, and start collaboration and civil discussion." Also, "We [Education Post] believe we can change the tenor of the discourse, shifting away from political divisions and towards results for students and families."

And that sounds swell, except that some of the divisiveness is built into the debate. I want to preserve and renew public education in the US; many of the reformsters want to dismantle it and sell the parts. I think a certain amount of divisiveness is built in.

And as I have noted before-- the polarization, the name-calling, the politics are all part of the discussion because reformsters put them there. With their power, money, and hubris, reformsters set the terms for this debate, and now that they're losing on those terms, they would like to change the rules, please. It's not that I disagree, exactly-- I thought the rules were unfair and off point when reformsters set them. But they built them into the discussion, and I'm not sure how we can get them out. I'm quite sure the solution is not for reformsters to pretend that they had nothing to do with those elements of the discussion in the first place.

But there's still two articles to go. Let's see how they do.


Chris Stewart wants to talk about charters, but he doesn't want to talk about anything except how they affect his own family.

Except that he's going to repeat some standard pro-charter talking points about how charters get on top performing schools lists and there are huge waiting lists to get in. Also, traditional public schools work for some families, even though the schools suck.

He tells his own story, about how he was heartbroken at the possibility that his son would be "less competitive" because of a dreadful public school. Then he discovered a charter school, and it wasn't even expensive, because it was "free."

So this lead article on a website devoted to discussing school issues with "more hard facts and fewer unsupported opinions" gives us one man's personal experience with charters and no facts about charters as a whole. It re-presents the PR points about high charter achievement without looking at the facts about retention and how well charter population represents the general population. Nor does it address the questions of how a "free" charter education comes at the cost of resources to those large, unruly public schools, nor the fact that the "free" charter is paid for by money from taxpayers who have no say in the charter system, no opportunity to elect the charter board.

But in terms of addressing parents, the article is on point. It addresses the admittedly difficult moral dilemma many parents face-- would you put your own child in a lifeboat if it meant that the boat holding everybody else's children would sink that much faster? Stewart's answer-- "I've got mine, Jack."


Our final launch article is "The Common Sense Behind Common Core," and Tracy Dell'Angela is here to plug it as a mom.

She's here to tell you that everything negative you've ever heard about the Core is a lie. Misbranding headlines. Biased polls (she references the PDK poll). Sham allegations from opponents. With her newsroom background, she knows that journalists often take lazy shortcuts, though she seems to connect this only to CCSS oppo pieces, and not the sixty gazillion (my rough estimate) puff pieces promoting the Core. And she quotes Randi Weingarten to show that of course the Core is fine with teachers.

She acknowledges only two issues-- rushed implementation and teacher evals tied to testing-- "But we can have meaningful dialogue about these issues without poisoning the promise of shared high standards."

 As a mom, I don’t rightly care what we brand this movement, but I know we should not stand still — and we cannot retreat. I don’t want to go back to that time when “meeting standards” was an empty promise that offered no peace of mind that my daughters were really, truly learning.

Yes, indeed. No education of any value ever happened anywhere until the Core came along. This is an unvarnished Common Core plug.


If this were simply more reformster puff piecing, I would just walk away. But this is extra obnoxious because it tries to shoehorn its way into a need sector of the ed debates.

We can certainly use more conversations that try to deal with educational issues without rancor and political foolishness. But to use that need to send up this pretend conversation is cynical and worse than counter-productive.

The message here is not "We need to have some Real Talk." The message here is "We're trying to sell our goods and these people keep interrupting with their arguments and ideas." When you're really trying to have a conversation and someone keeps calling your names, you have a right to be upset. When you are trying to sell snake oil and hecklers keep pointing out that it's just snake oil, you're on shakier ground. When you are trying to burn down someone's house and they yell, "Hey, stop burning down my house," you don't get to complain about how you've been ill treated.

This is not a sincere attempt to start a conversation. It doesn't recognize or acknowledge any point of view but its own; in fact, both Stewart and Dell'Angela respond to certain opposition viewpoints with "I don't care." Not exactly a conversation starter, that. And despite the introductory call for facts over fireworks, the site depends on personal anecdotes and a disregard for all data that don't fit the sales pitch.

None of that is new. We've seen plenty of this over the past couple of years. What is unfortunate about the site is that by trying to adopt the mantle of non-political fact-based examination, they've made that pitch a bit less believable for the next group that wants to use it. If Education Post called itself what it is-- a site devoted to furthering the reformster agenda-- it would be merely noise. By masquerading as a site for fair and balanced conversation, it damages one more space where actual conversation might one day have taken place.

[Update: Today the site was further demonstrating its interest in conversation by deleting the many negative comments it had drawn on Monday night. When called on it on twitter, the response was "Hoping for a better conversation. Stay tuned." ]

1 comment:

  1. "“We can have differences of opinion about these policies, but they should be based on facts, not fear. An honest, open conversation is possible among people of good will. We want to elevate those voices that are not being heard and counter the voices that are misleading, either willfully or not.”"

    There must be a glitch in their Facebook account -

    Yesterday, I posted a few links with brief comments which would respectfully question and criticize their position.

    I posted this - another education article by Ms. Layton:

    And this:

    It must be a glitch, because Education Post is committed to open discussion and they allow differences of opinion, so there is no way that my posts have been scrubbed from their Facebook page. It cannot be that I have been blocked from commenting. I'm sure that they would not have disallowed public comments entirely. Otherwise, we couldn't have the genuine discussion, for which they really exist. And that would just be silly-think, wouldn't it?

    I'll just sit here and wait for them to fix the glitch.